Howling Laud Trump
When I witnessed my first UK election, there was one phenomenon I had a hard time getting my head round: that of the joke party.
There stood the candidates for a seat in parliament, bunched together on a stage while a dull man read out vote counts, exact to single digits. There was the Tory, there was the Labour candidate, there was the Lib Dem. There were smaller parties too — Greens and reformers and odious British nationalists. And there, among the suits, often stood a man in a pantomime dress and Marie Antoinette wig, or a Boss Tweed suit pinned with melon-sized rosettes, or painted head-to-toe orange like a giant baked bean.
“Alan ‘Howling Laud’ Hope, Monster Raving Loony Party,” the dull man would intone. “318.”
“Captain Beany, New Millennium Bean Party, 159.”
The emotion is faded now and I can barely understand it, but I remember being vaguely offended. Was this any way to treat the serious business of government? And why were thousands of across the country people throwing their votes away — or worse, what if his Laudship really got elected?
“It’s great,” said my husband, a Brit. “It’s tradition. People like to take the piss. And it’s not like he’ll ever get enough votes to win.”
I eventually came round to hubby’s point of view, and enjoyed the spectacle, the Britishness of it all, and the smug feeling of maybe understanding this slice of Blighty. How long had we all been saying that we voted for the lesser of two evils? Maybe it was healthy to have a whimsical outlet for that frustration. I remembered Nader in 2000 and thought maybe this was better.
I moved back to the U.S. in 2008, and I haven’t thought of the Monster Raving Loony Party for some years. Until today, actually. I’d slowly been pulling out familiar-looking bricks and rivets, turning them over in my hands uncomprehendingly, and then throwing them on my chaotic idea pile. Today I pulled out the crucial last rivet, the dam came down and the Monster Raving Loony Party flooded my brain.
The GOP. They are the Monster Raving Loony Party. They are the protest vote that went haywire. And it seems like, on the right, no one’s sure if they want to reclaim sanity again or not.
It should have been obvious ages ago. The wild hair, which manages to combine a Marie Antoinette airiness with a baked-bean hue. (Wild hair and sticking it to the establishment are a natural combination.) The outrageous statements, the carnival-barker delivery. But most importantly, the very idea of a protest vote and an outsider candidate pushed beyond the bounds of believability, to the land of parody and farce.
That got crystallized this week, as we absorbed the spectacle of Trump the pro-wrestler silhouette, Melania the plagiarist, and a spokesman’s postmodern linguistic take on My Little Pony. (There’s an adjunct position waiting for you somewhere, Mr. Spicer.) But it’s been true from the beginning.
Like protest voters since year nought, Trump supporters have acted mostly in reaction to their own political and economic marginalization, real and perceived, and the feeling that the “system” is not representing or even listening to them. And a rebellion against the system does naturally cause one to search for an outsider, whether it’s Ralph Nader or Ross Perot. (Hell, even sitting presidents have run as outsiders.) But usually there’s a sense that obviously, we aren’t actually going to dismantle the system. As much as voters might say they need a “real change,” have they been willing to ignore all conventions of the American political process? To vote for a candidate who lies repeatedly, brazenly, and never, ever apologizes? To put the evangelical vote behind a man with documented affairs? To reward a man who calls POWs “losers”? To countenance religious tests for U.S. entry? To reward denigration of entire races and nations?
They have now. They really, truly want the anti-candidate, the anti-election, the anti-politics. And this week Trump has delivered exactly what they asked for: a convention that ignores the principles of electioneering so much that it verges on incompetence. Except, maybe it isn’t incompetence. Doing conventions badly means you’re not a real politician, right? Just swing out there with your best bouffant and have a good time. That’s why the people vote for a Howling Laud Hope.
Once their non-politician is elected, will he be a non-president? Sure — that’s what they asked for. This week it emerged that Trump’s son Donald Jr. asked an advisor to John Kasich if the Ohio governor would like to be the most powerful vice-president in history. Kasich would have the privilege of looking after both domestic and foreign policy. And what would president Trump do? Make America Great Again, said the son, who as far as I know doesn’t write for Veep. (Cry for Armando Iannucci. This week has made him redundant.)
So there you have it. Trump doesn’t really plan to run a campaign, and he doesn’t plan to govern. He is there simply as a vote receptacle: a ribbon-festooned empty suit. The less suitable to the office he makes himself, the more he invites votes. So everyone can show how angry they are, about the fact that their vote doesn’t matter. They can’t possibly change the status quo.
Tell that to the people of Britain. Tell that to Brussels.
This man just won the Republican nomination for President of the United States.